Blue and Bluer: Red Wave Bypasses Colorado

Elisa LlodraFeatured News

By Jennifer Goodrum, CDA Lobbyist
From the Winter 2023 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

Information in this article reflects its published date of Dec. 19, 2022.

In an election that was widely projected to favor Republicans, the balance of power in Colorado shifted further to the left during last year’s election, with Democrats picking up seats in both the state House and state Senate.

In the first general election since redistricting, Republican efforts to flip either chamber, or any of the statewide offices were thwarted. In Colorado, the current Democrat governor, attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state all retained their seats.

Democrats had wins in long-held “safe” Republican seats, and, for a period of time, Republican Lauren Boebert (R-Rifle) looked in jeopardy of losing her 3rd Congressional district seat in what has long been considered a solid-red district. Also drawing national attention, the race for Colorado’s new 8th Congressional district flip-flopped several times after polls closed with state Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer (R-Broomfield) eventually conceding the very close race to pediatrician and state Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton).

In the Colorado State Senate, Democrats picked up three seats since the last state legislative session, moving the Senate to a nearly veto-proof 23 Democrat to 12 Republican split. The Senate remains relatively stable with reasonably consistent leadership and only two new members without prior legislative experience. Sen. Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) remains Senate president, and Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Colorado Springs) is the Senate minority leader.

In the Colorado State House of Representatives, Democrats picked up five seats, yielding a veto-proof 46 Democrat to 19 Republican split. The Colorado House will likely face a big learning curve this year with all new leadership on both sides of the political aisle and 29 brand new members without prior legislative experience. Long-time dental champion, Rep. Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon), was elected to the top leadership position as Speaker of the House, and many additional friends of dentistry were selected for top leadership roles. The Republican House Minority caucus experienced significant change with the unexpected passing of former Minority Leader Hugh McKean. Mike Lynch (R-Wellington) was selected as House Minority Leader for the 2023 legislative session.

The state’s Joint Budget Committee (JBC), which determines funding for state programs like senior dental care, Medicaid, loan repayment and more, also experienced significant turnover. Five of the six members are new to the committee, which also has less rural representation under the new configuration. Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada) returns to the budget committee and will serve as chair in 2023. Rep. Shannon Bird (D-Westminster) was newly appointed to the JBC and will serve as its vice chair through the 2023 legislative session, along with new appointees Sen. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village), Rep. Emily Sirota (D-Denver), Rep. Rod Bockenfeld (R-Watkins) and Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer (R-Broomfield).

Overall, the legislature continues to increase in diversity following the 2022 election. For the first time in state history, majority of members in the Colorado General Assembly are female. In the state House, the broad majority of leadership positions are also filled by women. Nevada is the only other state in the U.S. with a female majority in its legislature.

At the time of publication, legislative policy agendas for 2023 were still being determined or finalized. Initially expected to be more moderate, policy agendas are likely to see a more progressive shift given the composition of the legislative bodies. Policy agendas may be more aligned with worker, patient, human rights and safety net protections, while being less aligned with traditional business interests. It will be interesting to see where moderation to more progressive agendas may arise—whether from coalitions of moderate legislators banding together or potentially even the Democrat Governor’s Office. The state budget will also constrain policy agendas, as the budget will be limited both by the state’s TABOR cap as well as economic conditions.

Beyond elected officials, Coloradans voted to approve ballot initiatives that will reduce the income tax rate, give children free meals at school, expand funding for affordable housing and extend a property tax exemption for spouses of slain service members. A proposed ballot measure aimed at increasing Medicaid dental payment rates did not collect enough signatures to qualify for inclusion on the 2022 statewide ballot.

Outside Colorado, Massachusetts voters approved Ballot Initiative 2 on a wide margin. Massachusetts Ballot Initiative 2 established a medical loss ratio (MLR) standard at 83% for dental plans. MLR is the portion of premium revenue that a healthcare insurance company spends on claims, patient care, and healthcare quality for its customers. In 2010, the federal Affordable Care Act required all medical carriers to meet a standard of an annual, minimum 80% MLR for individual and small group insurance plans (85% MLR for large group plans). No similar standard is enforced in most states for dental insurance plans. In this election, Massachusetts voters established the most comprehensive MLR law of any state to date with public support greater than 70%.